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May Taps Chinese Telecom Giant to Help Build 5G Network Despite U.S. Objections

(Aly Song/Reuters)

Prime Minister Theresa May will allow the Chinese telecom giant Huawei to build certain “non-core” components of the U.K.’s 5G data network despite warnings from U.S. officials that the move would compromise British security.

The decision, which was announced Tuesday at a meeting of the U.K.’s National Security Council, was made over the objections of Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson and a number of other cabinet ministers concerned about how it would affect relations with the U.S.

The move, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, comes after May’s government announced it would send a high-level diplomatic delegation to Beijing to celebrate Britain’s involvement in China’s influence-expanding Belt and Road Initiative. The U.S. opted not to send a delegation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned U.S. allies not to give Huawei access to their data networks in February.

“If a country adopts this [Huawei technology] and puts it in some of their critical information systems, we won’t be able to share information with them, we won’t be able to work alongside them,” he said. “In some cases there’s risk — we won’t even be able to co-locate American resources, an American embassy, an American military outpost.”

Proponents of cooperation with Huawei argue that the “non-core” components Huawei will provide merely facilitate the passage of the data from one piece of hardware to the next and cannot be used to compromise information.

Australia and New Zealand — which, along with Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., are members of the Five Eyes security alliance — have announced that they will block Huawei from accessing their networks.

A group of Republican lawmakers, led by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, has pushed aggressively for further sanctions against Chinese telecom companies on the grounds that such companies steal American intellectual property.

“It’s a mistake. I’ve told that to the White House, I’ve told that to the president, and I’m going to tell him again. ZTE has nothing to do with trade, nothing. The Chinese use their telecom companies to spy on us,” Rubio said last year when asked about President Trump’s decision to rescind sanctions on the Chinese telecom company ZTE as part of broader trade negotiations.

“They are trying to put us out of business. They steal our secrets, they reverse engineer the things that we do,” he continued. “Their goal is to dominate telecommunications and all technology in the world and they are doing it by stealing from us. We should not be helping them.”

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